DOURO-DUMMER, Ontario – Meridian, Idaho’s Joe Panzeri managed a 4-under 68 on Saturday at Wildfire Golf Club to take a two shot advantage through 54 holes at The Wildfire Invitational presented by PC Financial.
The 28-year old will look to secure his third career PGA TOUR Canada victory on Sunday after reaching 16-under par through three rounds, two strokes clear of a group of seven players in a tie for second, including Canadians Max Gilbert, Chris Hemmerich, Justin Shin and Adam Cornelson as well as Americans Jeff Corr, Jay Vandeventer and Brock Mackenzie.
“I hit the ball really well, kept it and front of me and played smart golf,” said Panzeri. “The greens are so good out here, I’m just trying to hit fairways and greens because I feel like you can make putts.”
Panzeri will look to turn around what he admitted has been a disappointing year in 2014 on Sunday, and said he’s taken a fresh attitude into this week to return to the form that saw him finish sixth on the Order of Merit last season.
“It’s been a tough year. I had high expectations for myself and haven’t really done much at all,” said Panzeri, who currently sits 90th on the Order of Merit with four made cuts in seven starts. “I had some talks with people back home and people out here, and just kind of changed my attitude a little bit. Instead of expecting it, I’m just working hard and sticking to a game plan instead of putting the pressure on myself. I just kind of relaxed and I’m trying to have fun.”
With rounds of 66-64-68 so far this week, Panzeri said he feels more comfortable on the course than he has all year, partly in thanks to a switch to an old, friendly flatstick on the greens this week.
“I was just messing around in the garage and grabbed a short putter I had played well with in college and it felt really good,” said Panzeri, who had been employing the broomstick anchoring method for his previous starts this year. “I just went with it, and it’s panned out well so far.”
With a host of chasers just behind him, Panzeri said he would lean on his experience on Sunday to try and stay ahead of the pack. Panzeri has converted a 54-hole lead into victory in both of his PGA TOUR Canada wins, taking a 3-shot lead through 54 holes at last year’s ATB Financial Classic and a 2-stroke advantage at the 2011 SIGA Dakota Dunes Open presented by SaskTel to the house for wins.
“It’s a good opportunity. I’ve been in this position before a few times, and hopefully those will help me for tomorrow,” said Panzeri. “I can’t control what other guys do. My goal for tomorrow is just to go play golf, have fun and commit to my shots and do all that I can.”
Gilbert had the round of the day with 7-under 65, while 36-hole leader Adam Cornelson carded an even par 72 to fall back into a tie for second with Mackenzie, his playing partner, along with Corr, Shin and Hemmerich, who all carded 68s. Joining the group was Jay Vandeventer after a 69.
In order to defend his title at the TOUR Championship of Canada presented by Freedom 55 Financial in two weeks, Max Gilbert knows he’ll have to play some good golf, and soon. At 134th on the Order of Merit, the 24-year old finds himself well outside the top-60 cutoff that will play in London and retain exempt status for 2015.
Through three rounds at Wildfire, it’s mission accomplished for Gilbert, who fired a 7-under 65 to post the round of the day and sit 14-under and tied for second.
“I’m very happy the way I played. I played better again today and we’ll see what happens. I need the same thing tomorrow,” said Gilbert. “It’s definitely my goal to be in London, so I need to play well here and next week too. I want to be there because it’s a great golf course for me.”
Gilbert won the season-ending event at Sunningdale Golf and Country Club last season in a Cinderella story, playing his way into the Order of Merit-only event with no status on PGA TOUR Canada, then shooting four rounds in the 60s to win by one. At Wildfire, his standout day was highlighted by three eagles, including a hole-out from 122 yards on the 14th to put him 7-under on the day.
“I had it going,” Gilbert said. “The first one was a good putt, the second one was like a six- or seven-footer, but the feeling that I had after the 122 yards, it was perfect in the air. It said ‘go in,’ and it went in, so it was a good feeling.”